Riding While Chareidi // A bus battle echoes in the Knesset

In a widely viewed recent video clip, an Israeli woman on a bus gave a chareidi man a hard time—about his being chareidi.
The bus was in Hod Hasharon, a largely secular town, and the woman probably hadn’t had many opportunities to vent her feelings. But here she was in the presence of her perceived enemy, a captive audience of one (although the others on the bus were also treated to her performance).
And so she launched into a critique of the stranger for not contributing to Israel’s security by serving in the army.
With his phone video camera on, he asked her how she knew that about him, and she responded that his yarmulke and general appearance (he had long peyos and wore a white shirt) had led to her conclusion.
As it happens, the man, a chasid named Yisrael Yonasan Hirsch, is a lieutenant in an IDF reserves combat unit, a fact he eventually shared with her. But it did nothing to tamp down the harasser’s antagonism, as she continued to criticize her mark’s appearance and to label chareidim a cult. Later, she told a reporter that she has “antipathy to chareidim; they have ten children and I’m afraid of them. They have no place here.”
For his part, the target of the verbal assault insisted on his right, in a democracy, to dress as he pleases without being harassed. He can, he declared animatedly, wear a shtreimel if he wants, even seven of them. Eventually, he wished her a good day.
The harassee didn’t intend for the bus altercation to go public. But after he shared his video with some friends, one of them posted it online and, well, virality ensued.
The timing of the incident couldn’t have come at a more timely moment, against the backdrop, some 70 kilometers to the southeast, of debate in the Knesset over a bill that would expand the law against racist incitement to include “incitement against the chareidi population.”
The proposal was made by Yahadut HaTorah’s Moshe Gafni and Yakov Asher, who explained that the expanded definition was needed because of the “recent widening occurrence” of incitement against the chareidi community. Currently, the law recognizes disparaging bias only if aimed at people because of their skin color or national-ethnic origin. But, the MKs argue, since chareidim are “separate in their clothing and customs…there is no rationale for exempting them from [the protection of] the law.”
The proposed definition expansion has been assailed by some. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, for instance, railed against the proposal, calling it based on a “farcical concept” and characterizing it as a sneaky move to ensure funding for chareidi educational institutions. Somehow, he also imagines the proposal as “an underhanded means of advancing the notion that ultra-Orthodoxy is the only true form of Judaism.”
Chareidim are not a race, Mr. Pfeffer protests, which, of course, is true. But the entire point of the bill under consideration is to expand an anti-hate law beyond race, to an identifiable group that is, unarguably, often targeted for animus.
As an example of anti-chareidi rhetoric in the Knesset chamber itself, MK Asher shared a clip from a speech by Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli in which she derides “all the wearers of kippot, all the rabbis, all the long beards, all the long coats, all those that are holy in their eyes.” Lovely.
Ms. Michaeli and the woman on the Hod Hasharon bus are good examples of the tragic and frightening anti-chareidi animosity that infects part of Israeli society.
Granted, most young men who look like the one the lady on the bus decided to pick on are not likely IDF lieutenants. But that is beside the point. The bus lady’s antipathy was, as she well demonstrated by her continued harangue even after her victim shared his military status with her, entirely independent of concern about public service; it was born solely of the fact that the object of her ill will dared to be, and look like, a religious Jew.
He was simply guilty, in her jaundiced perspective, of an apparent current crime: riding while chareidi.
In what proudly identifies as a Jewish state.